When it comes to performance nutrition, we try to base our messages around the 3 Ts of nutrition. Whilst many people understand the importance of the Type of food, not as many realise the importance of the other 2 Ts, these being Total and Timing.
When we think about Type we need to think about the 3 main food groups: carbohydrate (our energy foods); fats (our energy and development); protein (our growth and repair foods). Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are collectively known as macronutrients.
Fruit & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contains vitamins and minerals which are vital for normal bodily functions and to keep you healthy. Different colours of fruits and vegetables contain differing vitamins and minerals, therefore it is crucial that young footballers eat a variety each day rather than stick to their one preferred option. We like to tell players to ‘eat a rainbow each day to make sure that each day we have our full compliment of good stuff.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source and a very important part of a young player’s diet. Young players should aim to obtain the majority of their carbohydrates from quality sources such as wholegrain/brown wraps, rice, pasta and potatoes (including sweet potatoes). Good carbohydrate rich snack options of include muesli bars, fruit and muesli/porridge. Added sugar is also a source of carbohydrate, however is a poorer choice as it provides no other nutritional value (vitamins or minerals) and also can lead to tooth decay. Therefore high sugar-containing foods such as fizzy drinks, sweets and chocolate should be limited.
Certain fats (essential fatty acids) are vital to support brain development, for vitamin transport and storage and hormone production. They are also an important fuel source for young players. However, fat is very energy dense (high in calories) therefore excessive fat intake should be avoided. Young players should consume natural sources of fat such as oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), nuts and seeds, avocado and olive oil which are high in essential fatty acids. High levels of trans fat which are often found in processed and fast food should be avoided due to the lack of nutritional value.
Protein is essential to support growth and allows repair of muscles following exercise/training. High quality protein sources come from animal foods such as chicken, meat (beef, lamb), fish, eggs, milk and yogurt. Non-animal protein sources such as nuts and nut butters, beans, chickpeas and lentils should also be included in a young player’s diet.
Here are some useful tables to show carbohydrate, fat and protein quantities in common foods. These can be downloaded, printed and kept close-to-hand when preparing meals.
Total & Timing
Players should aim to eat around 5 times per day, roughly every 3 hours to provide energy throughout the day and to sustain growth and repair. The nutritional term for a meal or snack that a player consumes is a ‘feed’. Each feed should consist of similar amounts of macronutrients although this may fluctuate from feed to feed, e.g. one feed may be higher in fat, but the next feed is lower in fat. We have created some useful tables so that you can clearly see the recommended amount of each food type based on your son’s weight.
Fruit & Vegetables
It is important to eat vegetables regularly throughout the day, including at breakfast. Vegetables are probably the most under appreciated aspect of sport nutrition. It is these vegetables that allow us to be healthy which will improve performance. Adding peppers and spinach to an omelette is a great way to have some at breakfast whilst a big tray of roasted veggies are a great addition to every meal. Try to eat at least 5 portions (handful) of vegetables throughout the day. On top of this 1-2 pieces of fruit per day is also suggested. Berries and bananas are particularly good options, try our Berry Brekkie Smoothie as a mid-morning snack.
The amount of carbohydrate a young player requires depends on the amount of energy they are expending. Considering that young players are at school all day and training most afternoons/evenings their carbohydrate intake should be high. All meals should contain a source of carbohydrates (½ a plate) with one or two high carbohydrate snacks throughout the day depending on the players training demands. Players should consume a source of carbohydrate before (1-2 hours) and after (within an hour) training.
Fat Fat intake should remain constant throughout the week. A young player’s fat intake should come as a consequence of their protein intake i.e. from fish, meat and nuts. Players should aim to include 2-3 portions of fish per week in addition to a daily serving of ‘good fats’ such as ½ an avocado or 2 handfuls of nuts. Obvious fats such as those in butter and oils should be consumed in a moderate amount. It is also advisable to remove excess fat from meats, such as trimming the visible fat from beef products.
Protein intake for elite athletes should come consistently throughout the day. A player should aim to consume approximately 2 grams of protein for every kilogram of their body mass each day, for example a 60 kg football player needs 120 grams of protein daily. This 120 grams should be split into 4-5 meals/snacks throughout spaced by around ~3-4 hours, i.e. ~25-30 grams of protein at each meal/snack. An easy way of introducing protein is through and egg based dish such as our Frittata which can be pre-prepared, cut into slices and eaten cold after a training session.
Marcus Hannon (Academy Performance Nutritionist PhD Practitioner)